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Not such hallowed ground:

Military war dead remains treated with the utmost horror

King George  —  The Air Force Mortuary Affairs website touts “Dignity, Honor, and Respect for the Fallen.” But at least four families found their loved one’s remains were treated with the utmost horror.

Some cremated partial remains of fallen warriors were disposed of under an Air Force medical waste provider contract and ultimately dumped at the King George Landfill.

Though a Nov. 8 news release from the Department of Defense (DOD) only indicated the remains went to a landfill in Virginia, a congressional inquiry via telephone on Nov. 15 provided verification that remains were

sent to the King George landfill.

New Jersey 12th District Rep. Rush Holt (D) sent a letter to Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta on Sept. 16 asking for clarification on DOD’s disposition of unclaimed remains of American military personnel killed in combat.
Holt’s Communications Director Thomas Seay said the Congressman sent the letter in response to a concern from a constituent.

According to information released to the widow of a fallen Virginia soldier, her husband’s partial cremated remains were incinerated by the Air Force’s medical waste disposal contractor.

“That information in the letter is based on information supplied by the constituent on whose behalf Congressman Holt was acting,” said Seay. “The Air Force informed our constituent in writing that the landfill in use at the time that her husband’s remains were cremated was in King George County, Virginia.”

According to Seay the letter did not specify how long the Air Force had been using the King George landfill, but Holt’s constituent’s husband’s remains were cremated in late 2007.

As of Nov. 15, the congressman’s office had not received a response to his Sept. 16 letter or to his second letter sent on Nov. 11.

The Nov. 8 “Air Force Investigates and Improves Mortuary Operation” press release that provided an overview of an Air Force Inspector General (IG) investigation said the disposal practices in place between 2003 and 2008 have since been changed.

County officials and Waste Management were blindsided by the news and responded in disbelief and outrage about the lack of respect in processing remains.

Waste Management spokesperson Lisa Kardell said she first became aware of the situation through a phone call from a Washington Post reporter on Nov. 9

“The reporter claimed to have a letter from the Office of Mortuary Affairs stating that the remains were incinerated and disposed of at the King George landfill,” said Kardell.

She verified that the King George property is not a medical waste permitted site and no medical waste is accepted at the landfill, nor does the company have any government disposal contracts with Dover Air Force Base.

“Once incinerated, medical waste can be disposed of in a normal disposal area of a landfill,” Kardell said. “It is no longer classified as medical waste but rather industrial ash.”

The King George site does accept industrial ash from some companies but they have a system of required checks for all special categories and the manifest must indicate it is an ash.

“The Bill of Lading and manifest would verify the contents of the waste being disposed,” explained Kardell. “But it would be clearly manifested that it is industrial ash from medical waste.”

The USAF IG investigation was launched in June 2010 based on three civilian employees’ May 2010 allegations of ongoing improprieties concerning handling of remains at the Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base.

Kardell said Waste Management requested the name of the contractor from Air Force officials and was told the request would have to come from the company’s attorney since a contract is involved.

“We have manifests for everything that comes into the landfill and it all goes through a proper approval process,” said Kardell.

But they cannot verify any data about the alleged dumping without being able to review their manifests. The USAF has not yet responded to Waste Management’s request for the name of the contractor they used so that data can be verified.
King George Board of Supervisors Chair Joe Grzeika released a statement on Nov. 10 in which he stated, “I find it despicable and want to let the citizens know we, like them, found out about the issue in the news articles last night and this morning.”

Neither the county nor Waste Management had any knowledge before this issue was reported. These remains needed to be treated with the dignity and respect that our fallen heroes deserve.

Congressman Rob Wittman (R VA-1), Chairman of the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, released a statement on Nov. 10 after allegations of mismanagement at Dover Air Force Base came to light.

Wittman echoed concerns from Richard L. DeNoyer, the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “You only get one chance to return our fallen warriors to their families with all the dignity and respect they deserve from a grateful nation — and that mortuary affairs unit failed.”

“I fully agree with the comments of Mr. DeNoyer and will do everything I can to ensure accountability, as I continue to do at Arlington National Cemetery,” said Wittman.

Following the conclusion of the annual Veterans Day ceremony at the Fredericksburg War memorial on Nov. 11, Wittman said he plans to ask for a Congressional inquiry.

“We must ensure that this never happens again,” said Wittman.

A response to a request for further details about the allegations and names of the Air Force medical waste provider disposal contractors had not been received from the Air Force Public Affairs Office prior to deadline Tuesday.

-Marty van Duyne

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